By Joaquin Miller
(1841 - 1913)
 
 
At the Grave of Walker
 
 
HE lies low in the levelled sand,
Unsheltered from the tropic sun,
And now of all he knew not one
Will speak him fair in that far land.
Perhaps ’twas this that made me seek,
Disguised, his grave one winter-tide;
A weakness for the weaker side,
A siding with the helpless weak.
 
A palm not far held out a hand,
Hard by a long green bamboo swung,
And bent like some great bow unstrung,
And quivered like a willow wand;
Perched on its fruits that crooked hang,
Beneath a broad banana’s leaf,
A bird in rainbow splendor sang
A low, sad song, of tempered grief.
 
No sod, no sign, no cross nor stone,
But at his side a cactus green
Upheld its lances long and keen;
It stood in sacred sands alone,
Flat-palmed and fierce with lifted spears;
One bloom of crimson crowned its head,
A drop of blood, so bright, so red,
Yet redolent as roses’ tears.
 
In my left hand I held a shell,
All rosy lipped and pearly red;
I laid it by his lowly bed,
For he did love so passing well
The grand songs of the solemn sea.
O shell! sing well, wild, with a will,
When storms blow loud and birds be still,
The wildest sea-song known to thee!
 
I said some things with folded hands,
Soft whispered in the dim sea-sound,
And eyes held humbly to the ground,
And frail knees sunken in the sands.
He had done more than this for me,
And yet I could not well do more:
I turned me down the olive shore,
And set a sad face to the sea.
 
 
By the Pacific Ocean
 
 
HERE room and kingly silence keep
Companionship in state austere;
The dignity of death is here,
The large, lone vastness of the deep;
Here toil has pitched his camp to rest:
The west is banked against the west.
 
Above yon gleaming skies of gold
One lone imperial peak is seen;
While gathered at his feet in green
Ten thousand foresters are told:
And all so still! so still the air
That duty drops the web of care.
 
Beneath the sunset’s golden sheaves
The awful deep walks with the deep,
Where silent sea doves slip and sweep,
And commerce keeps her loom and weaves
The dead red men refuse to rest;
Their ghosts illume my lurid West.
 
 
Columbus
 
 
BEHIND him lay the gray Azores,
  Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
  Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
  For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
  “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”
 
“My men grow mutinous day by day;
  My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
  Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
  If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,
  ‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”
 
They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
  Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
  Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
  For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say”—
  He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”
 
They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
  “This mad sea shows his teeth to-night.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
  With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
  What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
  “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
 
Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
  And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
  A light! A light! A light! A light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
  It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
  Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”
 
 
Crossing the Plains
 
 
WHAT great yoked brutes with briskets low,
With wrinkled necks like buffalo,
With round, brown, liquid, pleading eyes,
That turned so slow and sad to you,
That shone like love’s eyes soft with tears,
That seemed to plead, and make replies,
The while they bowed their necks and drew
The creaking load; and looked at you.
Their sable briskets swept the ground,
Their cloven feet kept solemn sound.
 
Two sullen bullocks led the line,
Their great eyes shining bright like wine;
Two sullen captive kings were they,
That had in time held herds at bay,
And even now they crushed the sod
With stolid sense of majesty,
And stately stepped and stately trod,
As if ’t were something still to be
Kings even in captivity.
 
 
Dead in the Sierras
 
 
  HIS footprints have failed us,
Where berries are red,
And madroños are rankest,—
The hunter is dead!
 
  The grizzly may pass
By his half-open door;
May pass and repass
On his path, as of yore;
 
  The panther may crouch
In the leaves on his limb;
May scream and may scream,—
It is nothing to him.
 
  Prone, bearded, and breasted
Like columns of stone;
And tall as a pine—
As a pine overthrown!
 
  His camp-fires gone,
What else can be done
Than let him sleep on
Till the light of the sun?
 
  Ay, tombless! what of it?
Marble is dust,
Cold and repellent;
And iron is rust.
 
 
Juanita
 
 
  YOU will come, my bird, Bonita?
Come! For I by steep and stone
Have built such nest for you, Juanita,
As not eagle bird hath known.
 
  Rugged! Rugged as Parnassus!
Rude, as all roads I have trod—
Yet are steeps and stone-strewn passes
Smooth o’erhead, and nearest God.
 
  Here black thunders of my cañon
Shake its walls in Titan wars!
Here white sea-born clouds companion
With such peaks as know the stars!
 
  Here madrona, manzanita—
Here the snarling chaparral
House and hang o’er steeps, Juanita,
Where the gaunt wolf loved to dwell!
 
  Dear, I took these trackless masses
Fresh from Him who fashioned them;
Wrought in rock, and hewed fair passes,
Flower set, as sets a gem.
 
  Aye, I built in woe. God willed it;
Woe that passeth ghosts of guilt;
Yet I built as His birds builded—
Builded, singing as I built.
 
  All is finished! Roads of flowers
Wait your loyal little feet.
All completed? Nay, the hours
Till you come are incomplete.
 
  Steep below me lies the valley,
Deep below me lies the town,
Where great sea-ships ride and rally,
And the world walks up and down.
 
  O, the sea of lights far streaming
When the thousand flags are furled—
When the gleaming bay lies dreaming
As it duplicates the world!
 
  You will come, my dearest, truest?
Come, my sovereign queen of ten;
My blue skies will then be bluest;
My white rose be whitest then:
 
  Then the song! Ah, then the sabre
Flashing up the walls of night!
Hate of wrong and love of neighbor—
Rhymes of battle for the Right!
 
 
Peter Cooper
 
 
  GIVE honor and love for evermore
To this great man gone to rest;
Peace on the dim Plutonian shore,
Rest in the land of the blest.
 
  I reckon him greater than any man
That ever drew sword in war;
I reckon him nobler than king or khan,
Braver and better by far.
 
  And wisest he in this whole wide land
Of hoarding till bent and gray;
For all you can hold in your cold dead hand
Is what you have given away.
 
  So whether to wander the stars or to rest
Forever hushed and dumb,
He gave with a zest and he gave his best—
Give him the best to come.
1883.
 
 
The Voice of the Dove
 
 
COME listen, O Love, to the voice of the dove,
Come, hearken and hear him say,
There are many To-morrows, my Love, my Love,—
There is only one To-day.
 
And all day long you can hear him say
This day in purple is rolled,
And the baby stars of the milky-way—
They are cradled in cradles of gold.
 
Now what is thy secret, serene gray dove,
Of singing so sweetly alway?
“There are many To-morrows, my Love, my Love,—
There is only one To-day.”
 
 
To Russia
 
 
WHO tamed your lawless Tartar blood?
What David bearded in her den
The Russian bear in ages when
You strode your black, unbridled stud,
A skin-clad savage of your steppes?
Why, one who now sits low and weeps,
Why, one who now wails out to you,—
The Jew, the Jew, the homeless Jew.
 
Who girt the thews of your young prime
And bound your fierce divided force?
Why, who but Moses shaped your course
United down the grooves of time?
Your mighty millions all to-day
The hated, homeless Jew obey.
Who taught all poetry to you?
The Jew, the Jew, the hated Jew.
 
Who taught you tender Bible tales
Of honey-lands, of milk and wine?
Of happy, peaceful Palestine?
Of Jordan’s holy harvest vales?
Who gave the patient Christ? I say,
Who gave your Christian creed? Yea, yea,
Who gave your very God to you?
Your Jew! Your Jew! Your hated Jew!
 
 
Twilight at the Heights
 
 
THE BRAVE young city by the Balboa seas
Lies compassed about by the hosts of night—
Lies humming, low, like a hive of bees;
And the day lies dead. And its spirit’s flight
Is far to the west; while the golden bars
That bound it are broken to a dust of stars.
 
Come under my oaks, oh, drowsy dusk!
The wolf and the dog; dear incense hour
When Mother Earth hath a smell of musk,
And things of the spirit assert their power—
When candles are set to burn in the west—
Set head and foot to the day at rest.
 
 
Vaquero
 
 
HIS broad-brimmed hat pushed back with careless air,
The proud vaquero sits his steed as free
As winds that toss his black abundant hair.
No rover ever swept a lawless sea
With such a haught and heedless air as he
Who scorns the path, and bounds with swift disdain
Away, a peon born, yet born to be
A splendid king; behold him ride and reign.
 
How brave he takes his herds in branding days,
On timbered hills that belt about the plain;
He climbs, he wheels, he shouts through winding ways
Of hiding ferns and hanging fir; the rein
Is loose, the rattling spur drives swift; the mane
Blows free; the bullocks rush in storms before;
They turn with lifted heads, they rush again,
Then sudden plunge from out the wood, and pour
A cloud upon the plain with one terrific roar.
 
Now sweeps the tawny man on stormy steed,
His gaudy trappings tossed about and blown
About the limbs as lithe as any reed;
The swift long lasso twirled above is thrown
From flying hand; the fall, the fearful groan
Of bullock toiled and tumbled in the dust—
The black herds onward sweep, and all disown
The fallen, struggling monarch that has thrust
His tongue in rage and rolled his red eyes in disgust.
 
 
Westward Ho!
 
 
WHAT strength! what strife! what rude unrest!
What shocks! what half-shaped armies met!
A mighty nation moving west,
With all its steely sinews set
Against the living forests. Hear
The shouts, the shots of pioneer,
The rended forests, rolling wheels,
As if some half-checked army reels,
Recoils, redoubles, comes again,
Loud-sounding like a hurricane.
 
O bearded, stalwart, westmost men,
So tower-like, so Gothic built!
A kingdom won without the guilt
Of studied battle, that hath been
Your blood’s inheritance.… Your heirs
Know not your tombs: the great plough shares
Cleave softly through the mellow loam
Where you have made eternal home,
And set no sign. Your epitaphs
Are writ in furrows. Beauty laughs
While through the green ways wandering
Beside her love, slow gathering
White, starry-hearted May-time blooms
Above your lowly levelled tombs;
And then below the spotted sky
She stops, she leans, she wonders why
The ground is heaved and broken so,
And why the grasses darker grow
And droop and trail like wounded wing.
 
Yea, Time, the grand old harvester,
Has gathered you from wood and plain.
We call to you again, again;
The rush and rumble of the car
Comes back in answer. Deep and wide
The wheels of progress have passed on;
The silent pioneer is gone.
His ghost is moving down the trees,
And now we push the memories
Of bluff, bold men who dared and died
In foremost battle, quite aside.
 
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